Top Ten Reasons It’s Cool to Be Christ-like

If you’re serious about being like Jesus, here you go with some great ways to follow his lead.

  1. Jesus lived a sinless life. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 1:19
  1. Jesus prayed for His friends–and some people He’d never met. John 17:6-26
  1. Jesus submitted to authority. John 12:49-50; Luke 22:42
  1. Jesus forgives everyone. Everyone, no matter what they did or do. Luke 23:34; 1 John 1:9
  1. Jesus never compromised the truth. Mark 8:34-35; John 8:10-11
  1. Jesus guided people into truth without hitting them over the head with it. Matthew 5-7; Luke 24:25-27
  1. Jesus is full of joy and peace–and shares it. John 14:27; John 15:11
  1. Jesus kept his priorities straight and was good at time management. Mark 1:35-39
  1. Jesus attended parties, enjoying fellowship with all types of people. Luke 7:36-38; Matthew 9:10; John 2:1,2

And the Number One Reason it’s cool to be Christ-like:

Jesus loves everyone, even those who don’t like Him and those who disagree with Him. Matthew 23:37

Sweet Tea and a Distasteful Flavor

“There’s a Fly in my Tea! The Importance of Maintaining a Christian Testimony;                By Crystal L. Ratcliff;  CrossLink Publishing 2016

A Book Review

Crystal Ratcliff, has presented a metaphor we can probably all relate to whether we drink our tea sweet or otherwise. Flies are pesky and dirty. We don’t want them crawling on the rim of our glass. The metaphor fits perfectly for the subject of this 11-session Bible study about our witness for Jesus. The cover design adds beautifully to the “ewwww” factor.

Maintaining a sweet, pure Christian testimony, says Ratcliff, means doing many things she believes we can learn from the life of the Apostle Peter. Her first lesson, however, gets someone off on the right foot before the study begins. She challenges her readers to examine their lives in light of their personal salvation and person relationship with the Lord. Since the book is meant to be studied with others, discussing these answers honestly can only be of benefit to each member and to the group itself.

Ratcliff’s style is relaxed and her tone is friendly. She expects the audience is women and that they share their stories within a group. However, the study could be done independently, if necessary.

The fact that Crystal takes the student right into scripture helps them to see how it relates to other scriptures. The lessons include just enough related verses to help the reader understand the lesson and how the lesson should be applied. An aspect of the study I appreciated was her openness regarding her own failings. Done in a safe environment, sharing what keeps us coming back to Jesus for help aids in discussion.

Subjects covered over the eleven-session study are trusting God totally; keeping my focus on God; walking in the Spirit in relation to how we spend our time; and believing who Jesus says he is versus the world’s view of him.

Ratcliff also mentions the tendency Christians have to witness about their church rather than being a sweet and pure witness for Christ alone. In her own way she says we would do better to point people to Jesus rather than a specific church body or denomination.

No church is perfect, she says, because no people are perfect. We all need to learn to pray more faithfully, forgive more quickly, and serve in love. But “our goal in studying this,” she says, “should be to protect ourselves from being an ‘offender.’”

To some readers, “There’s a Fly in my Tea” will seem like a course in Bible 101. If that’s the case, let me suggest you become the person Jesus commanded you to be and disciple others by leading them through this short study. Those new to the Christian faith will certainly get some of their questions answered. Recruit a couple of your more mature Christian friends to join in and they will help teach the younger women, which is a biblical principle taught by Paul.

The narrative sections are refreshing to anyone who even remotely understands the importance of a relationship with Jesus. The lists of questions at the end of each chapter (never more than 6-8) are just challenging enough to keep us teachable.

 

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

 

Short Stories for Empowering Youth

“Ed’s Tohlet & Other Stories: The Teen’s Guide to Spiritual Growth; By Don Keele, Jr.; Teach Services, Inc. Publishing; 103 pages

Don Keele has spent his career pastoring teens and young adults and helping them engage in church ministry. This book, humorous and challenging even to adults, is a written vehicle for doing so.

Through the power of story, Keele examines areas of strength as well as weakness in himself. We get to know him as he was as a youngster, a teen, and an adult. He tells on himself and it’s an endearing thing to see. Too often, Christians fail to make connections with the unchurched (not to mention with one another) because of a desire to not seem vulnerable.

But the lessons we need to learn, implied in Keele’s parables, come when we admit how much we need our Savior.

In “Smells,” the first story in Ed’s Tohlet, he starts off right. Not only does he indicate how we can be unaware of our spiritual need, he offers the reader a chance to decide to be one with Christ. And isn’t that the starting point for us all?

Keele handles such topics as bullying, Christian service (this is where the ‘tohlet’ comes in), pain, faith in our prayers, accepting God’s “No,” obedience, and more. While directed at a teen audience, this Christ follower found wisdom to follow and even took some notes.

In “Secret Weapon,” Keele describes what it meant to finally be part of an athletic team when he knew he had absolutely no athletic ability. Someone else showed faith in his ability to help. With success, came this realization

“I had only done what Richard had taught me…

Allow (God) to do that work and simply do what He asks you to do.”

At times, Don gets a little off-topic (and sometimes he admits it). Sometimes he seems a might preachy. But his stories really are funny in places. They really do point us to our own experiences with peer pressure, temptation, and a need to belong. They’re not just the needs of teenagers.

God has challenged me in a specific area and take I it seriously. After reading “COPS,” the author’s story about being pulled over and witnessing an arrest, the challenge God extends is even more real. That would the challenge to bear witness of God’s love and goodness to the world. Not just to those whom we celebrate with on the Sabbath and in our Christian huddles.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.

Comfort Foodie

An Education

No one educated me as I was growing up about the proper terms used for the various gatherings which occur when someone dies. The only word I was familiar with was “funeral.”

Later, I learned there was also quite often a “visitation.” People went to the facility that was handling the funeral and viewed the body. They spoke in low tones and offered condolences to the bereaved family members. I didn’t know for a long time that this is also called a “wake.”

I became confused the first time I arrived at a funeral and the man at the entrance asked if I was going to the cemetery for graveside services. But I was still learning.

Finally, with graveside services over, we’d gather for the “funeral dinner.”

A Bit of Reality

A little over a month ago, someone who was special to me passed away. And though I’ve been to many funerals during my life, I’m still learning. This wonderful man’s life celebration gave me pause as I sat and watched the people around me.

In the chapel of my church, a buffet luncheon and tables were set up. We filled our plates and sat with friends to share memories or to just have normal conversations. I realized that having a funeral dinner gives a different meaning to “comfort food.” When we lose someone we love, we need to feel, even if for a short time, something resembling normal. We meet over a meal and we’re somehow comforted.

If a funeral dinner happens at a church, the food was most likely prepared by church members in their homes. The food is often simple. Friends and family members help by offering a kind of stability in shaky circumstances. The simpler we keep things, the better. Even silences can be healing.

Last week a long-time friend notified me her husband had died. I didn’t look forward to attending another funeral. But I surely was ready to be there to comfort her. That meant being there in any way she needed.

It turned out that I sat with her and her children, whom I’d watch grow up, at the funeral dinner. We ate some “comfort food” and talked about normal stuff. If I was the betting type, I’d bet that it won’t be long before she and I are sharing more memories over a meal and talking about what’s making life normal again now that she’s grieving.

A Recipe For Caring

We don’t like to admit it, but we know that food seems to make things better.

We get up in the morning and our bodies are ready for sustenance. Food makes that bodily craving go away. “Ah, that’s better.”

Someone’s having a baby and we throw a shower. Food–especially chocolate–makes the occasion better. Weddings include a feast following the ceremony. Because food makes it even better. The Saturday football game at our alma mater begs a tailgater. Except for our team winning, what could possibly make it better?

We celebrate the milestones in life with food, join in conversations at the dinner table with our family, grab some of that famous Mackinac Island fudge while we’re on vacation, and roast marshmallows over a campfire. Because food makes getting together so much better.

An Example to Follow

Scour the Bible and you find many instances in which Jesus was eating with people. Indeed, a couple of his most famous miracles included feeding thousands of people. What we in the Church call communion is based on the Lord’s command during his last meal with the disciples to “remember him.”

I doubt very much they realized the bread and wine were “comfort food.”

But I’m still learning and I know. It’s why we say we celebrate communion. In community we celebrate, we remember, and we look to the future.

Loving Father, I pray we always know the way to celebrate life, even when we face life without someone we love. Help us to make each moment precious and to create communion–community–whenever we meet with people. Thank you for the gift of food and the many ways it sustains us. Thank you for the simplicity it can offer in a grave situation. Help us to find our ultimate joy and purpose in you and to realize Christ is the bread of life. Thank you, Jesus, for being the comfort food that will never leave us hungry.

Can’t Turn Back

Years ago in my small group, I was reminded of the scene where Jesus is once again being questioned by his own people–Jews–about who he is and why he does what he does. The scene takes place in John chapter 6. Jesus is explaining in terms that they obviously don’t understand.

He calls himself the “bread of life.” He also says if anyone drinks from him they’ll never be thirsty. After telling them that to eat his flesh and drink his blood means they’ll have a life in him, they’re totally confused.

“When many of the disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (6:60) After this, John records, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (6:66)

At first glance, I think if I were standing there with questions and Jesus said I had to eat him and drink his blood, I might consider making an exit as well.

Recently, I watched the movie “A League of Their Own” again. The film is about a women’s baseball league formed during WWII, but it’s about so much more. Toward the end of the movie, Dottie, who is by everyone’s estimation the best player in the league, decides she’s going home because her husband has returned from the war.

The bus is about to leave for the final series and her team is playing in it. Coach Dugan talks to her about her decision and makes the point that “baseball is inside” her.

“It just got too hard,” Dottie says.

“It’s supposed to be hard,” Coach Jimmy replies. “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great.” With that, he turns and walks back to the bus and his team.

Sitting in my small group back then, I remember thinking of what Jesus said to his twelve apostles when that confused and probably disgusted group turned and walked away.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?”

Peter, as usual, believes he speaks for them all when he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Coach Dugan quote

During that meeting it occurred to me that, even if I hadn’t actually put words to it, I knew I’d never want to leave Jesus and go back to what I’d been doing before. I thought about that lifestyle and it sickened me. How could I turn back and not follow? I thought. Jesus had gotten inside me.

But following can be hard. In fact,

“Jesus promised his disciples three things–that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” F.R. Maltby

Do you find that following Jesus is difficult sometimes? If Jesus says we believers are the light of the world, doesn’t that mean shining brightly in a dark world is part of the package? If we’re the salt of the earth, wouldn’t that mean being a savory addition to the lives we touch?

Some days I’m a measly 40-watt bulb with a heavy layer of dust covering me. Ask me to be salty and I might make some comment about preventing hypertension.

It can be hard.

Fortunately, and by the grace of God, we aren’t expected to be salt and light in our own power. Just like Dottie had a coach, we have the Holy Spirit to direct us and help us when things get hard. She had team mates and we have the members of Christ’s Church to encourage and support us.arrow with leader on top

Coach Jimmy Dugan’s words are true for many things. It’s hard to raise children. Working on our relationships to keep them afloat is hard. We aren’t going to just breeze through college or through a military career. Right now you might be involved in a project that’s overwhelming you.

But if it wasn’t hard, just like being a follower of Jesus can be, everyone would do it. It helps to remember what’s on the other side of this life.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Father in heaven, I thank you today that I have a choice to follow and that you rescued me from the lifestyle I seemed trapped in. When you give me a task to do that I balk at because it’s hard, remind me that you’re always in control. Thank you for making me salt and light to the world. Remind me that when I see your work in the world that the “hard” is what’s making this life as a follower “great.”

 

Five Ways to Tell if Someone Loves Jesus

all-about-jesus

They Love Others
People who love Jesus genuinely love others. Their love is marked not only by words, but by actions. Their vocal expressions of love leave you knowing that they mean it. Read: Romans 12:9; Philippians 2:1-4; James 2:17

They Have True Peace
If someone truly loves Jesus, they exhibit a peace that’s near inexpressible. It comes from being close to him and trusting him. They don’t try to have peace. The world can’t crowd in and steal it, nor can the enemy. His peace never comes from worldly expectations. Read: John 14:27; John 16:33; Philippians 4:7

They Obey Him
If someone is in love with Jesus, they know what he wants from them and for them. He doesn’t teach commands that make life difficult; but better. People who obey do it out of love for him. Read: John 14:23; 1 John 5:3

They Submit To His Authority
Those who love Christ realize the need to make him Master of their lives. They know that without his leadership, they might get some things right, but the effect won’t be the same. Nor will their actions have positive, lasting consequences. Submitting for these people isn’t a weakness, it’s freeing. Read: Luke 9:23; John 12:24-26; 2 Corinthians 3:17

They Serve the Body of Christ
When someone loves Jesus, they love his “brothers” so much they want to serve them. They look for opportunities to help and even go the extra mile. These people use what God’s given them to build up others’ faith, comfort them, guide them or provide whatever a brother or sister needs. People who love Jesus also serve those who are outside the church with the same kind of love. Read: Matthew 25:35-40; Ephesians 4:12-16

Are there more ways to tell if someone loves Jesus? What ways would you add to this list?

Ten Things I Can’t Do While Writing And What To Do About Followers

Besides re-blogging a post from another WordPress blogger, I haven’t been busy with The Fruitful Life lately. I haven’t any excuses; just a few reasons.

In March, I spent a week in the hospital and when I got home, spent more than a week catching up. (No details; it’s all too ugly). My life had been interrupted by something that, while necessary, was a pain in the neck. That’s not to say, neck pain was why I was hospitalized, but you get my meaning.

When I told a friend how frustrating it was, she said, “I know your personality too. You needed to have everything back in order immediately, didn’t you?”

She knows me well. That’s why I can call her a friend. However, things didn’t get into order immediately. Since I didn’t have Internet for a while and I was locked out of my laptop to boot, I had to go to the library to use their computers. I told you it was ugly.

A Broken Pencil
I thought about getting back to the blog because I hadn’t posted in so long. I even had a couple of back burner articles to post. But it seemed my pencil had been broken and writing got put on hold a little longer.
broken pencil

To tell you the truth, real life just plain got in the way of the writing life. Members of my writers’ group tell me it happens to them too. I just never thought it would happen to me. So here I am blogging again and I have to acknowledge things that I simply cannot do at the same time I’m writing.

1. Work on my Bible study
2. Engage in a hobby
3. Housework
4. Gab on the phone with my son, daughter and grand kids
5. Listen to the Detroit Tigers on the radio
6. Watch that new release movie I want to see
7. Shop for groceries
8. Sit down and pay the bills
9. Cook and eat a meal
10. Sleep

You may argue that some items on the list aren’t necessary for my household to stay up to snuff. To that I say, “All work and no play…”

Is Anybody Out There?
When I got back onto the blog, I noticed The Fruitful Life had nothing listed under Top Posts & Pages. There had been traffic, but not enough to rate, I suppose. Funny. I took a keen look at Twitter and the number of  ‘followers’ had done some wild stuff there too.

The surge of emails in my absence let me know I had new followers, but the actual number shown on Twitter didn’t reflect that. I’ve never been that great at math, but something didn’t come out right.

Now, I’m not all that concerned with numbers. It’s why I don’t have a counter on my blog or a notice below the Follow button saying how many people do (follow). The Twitter thing was one of those strange deals I just shook my head over. I figured as far as “followers” are concerned, I needn’t get too upset about it.

Not little old me.

Jesus, the sinless Son of God, lost followers too. Because he said some fairly harsh things and some outright difficult-to-understand things, folks stopped following. (See John 6:60-66) I haven’t used the term “brood of vipers.” I haven’t suggested people are going to hell. Nevertheless, I can’t consider myself in the same league as Christ Jesus.

[As an aside, if I really thought about the lives at stake, I would talk about hell. Gently. Accurately. Truth be told, quoting Jesus’ words about hell for a good reason would be more responsible than misquoting scripture to suit my own uses.]

Anyway, since the blog is supposed to reflect joy in my spiritual journey, I needed to write about this period of not facing the page in front of me. Writing is one of those things I feel very strongly God has given me a talent for and a calling to do. Besides, the writing itself gives me joy.

Now that I’m home and the groceries are bought, the laundry’s done, the bills are paid, I talked to my kids, and I even watched a new release movie, my broken pencil is back in action.

You’re certainly welcome to “follow.”

Claim Your Religion

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Matthew 16:15

Many Christians, members of the religious group to which I belong, have been trashing the word ‘religion’ for a long time. They shouldn’t, in my opinion, especially when referring to their own Church. A follower of Christ may be called upon to answer someday whether he or she claims this religion.

News sources all over the world openly reported countless incidents when this was true during 2014.

Taking a word for its literal meaning gives us one reason for accepting ‘religion’ into our vocabulary without prejudice. The basic definition my dictionary offers for the word and what most people, if pressed, understand it to mean is simple and direct.

“a personal set or institutional system of attitudes, beliefs and practices”

Our world is made up of people who practice a multitude of religions. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, Confucians and more. For some reason, Christians have no problem with saying, for instance, “The Islamic religion.” They may even study a course in college comparing world religions.

But they don’t want to be called ‘religious’ themselves.

A Creed

Many Christians throughout the world regularly recite either the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed in their church services. Other creeds exist, but these two are most well-known. The Creeds are statements of faith. The words describe the belief system of a Christian. It’s important for a believer of any religion to know and understand his or her personal faith and remember that a creed isn’t synonymous with “rules.”

Followers of Christ tend these days to emphasize their relationship with God, and a relationship is important. We revel in the fact that we can call God our Father and that Jesus is not only our brother but our friend. However, doctrine–one’s belief system–is also important. Here are a couple of good reasons why.

Witness and Discipleship

Anyone hoping to share their faith with another must be able to communicate their beliefs. We can talk all day about our personal relationship with Jesus, but when the rubber meets the road, it comes down to “What do you believe in?” How can we help win someone to the faith without telling them who Jesus is and that he died to save them? Our core beliefs are the essence of the Gospel.Jesus Is ---

Christ himself had a conversation with a man named Nicodemus and witnessed to him with the words quoted in John 3:16-17, among others. Jesus told this Pharisee that he came to save the world. Christians today use these words of Christ more than any others to witness to people. I dare say there hasn’t been a professional football game played since the 1960s that hasn’t had some guy holding up a huge sign with that scripture. If those words were good for Jesus, they’re good enough for us. Nicodemus became a follower, after all.

Jesus talked about his relationship with his followers, but most of all, he said, “Believe in the Father; believe also in me.” Over and over again people Jesus encountered for healing were restored because of their faith. Their belief in who he is. Likewise, spiritual healing comes as a result of our belief. It means a lot to God and to his Son that we believe.

Our belief is what allows us into the relationship we talk about with such fervor.

Furthermore, we can’t help people in their walk with Christ (Jesus calls it making disciples) if we can’t speak about our own faith in Christ. It’s that simple. Again, we can talk all day about our relationship, but another Christ follower has to find his or her own way into that unique communion with the Lord.

What’s In a Word?

I understand when people say things like, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” Or “Christianity isn’t about religion, it’s about relationship.” Or “Lose your religion.” They usually say those things because other Christians were sometimes less than helpful when they tried to enter the kingdom. The approach was hard, judgemental, or downright scary. So they blame ‘religion.’

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it’s not ‘religion’ (by definition) that’s to blame; it’s people. Ever since Moses received the law from God, we’ve been guilty of misinterpreting and manipulating God’s word to suit ourselves. Then we want to make others follow those rules too. For people who do that now, as then, Jesus had fiery words.

“Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46).

I speak from personal experience that it’s still true. It was part of my upbringing and I’ve had some ‘spiritual’ folks bang me over the head with their ‘spirituality’. In fact, I confess that at one time, I too was a spiritual bully.

Still…

As I said, any believer of any religion may one day be asked to give answers about what they believe.

We Americans often think we’re being persecuted if the government, our bosses or some organization take actions we disagree with. We can be more vocal about what we are against than what we’re for. Many of us take issue with the smallest slights, when Christians in foreign lands are truly suffering because of their beliefs. These people don’t pass under our daily radar. If ever. Maybe when there’s something in the news. I don’t speak about all Christians, because many are really trying to make a difference.

But what’s inspiring is that those truly persecuted Christians consider it a privilege to “claim their religion.” So that’s what they do.

In most of these countries true persecution begins when a Christian claims his or her religion. At baptism–the public statement of belief–that person will become estranged or ostracized from the family and the community. If that country is in the very least accepting of Christianity, believers may worship according to the government’s standards. If there’s no tolerance at all, those Christians worship in secret.

Many times they don’t have it that good. Their lives are at risk. The opposition to Christianity in those countries won’t ask, “Do you have a relationship with Jesus?” They’ll ask something more like, “Do you believe in this Jesus?” “Are you a Christian?”

Not a friendly environment.

Name It, Claim It

We don’t need to be afraid of the word religion in referring to Christianity. Knowing the security we have in our relationship with God will encourage us to boldly claim our religion instead of “losing” it.

Talk about your relationship with God. It’s okay because that relationship is what sets us apart from other religions. But spreading the Gospel message begins with doing what Jesus did: preaching the good news of the kingdom. The Good News starts with talking about Jesus. Tell people what he did and why he did it. Tell them about some of those beliefs in your creed. He rose again as he said he would. He’s coming back to claim his own.

If you can get that message across, you may have helped win someone over just as the Spirit led you.